Perform Your Own Home Property Survey

Perform your own home property survey: finding property markers saves you time, expense and trouble, including how to read a property description, preparing for the search, and surveying fieldwork.

| September/October 1986


Your right to build or farm, your right to live on land the way you see fit, even your family dog's right to roam at will — all stop at that line.


MOTHER's HANDBOOK: Finding property markers saves your time, expense and trouble when you perform your own home property survey. 

Perform Your Own Home Property Survey

Because I live in the country and have done some surveying, I am often being asked about property boundaries. The questions are varied: "How much does a surveyor cost?" "Can I do it myself?" "What equipment do I need?" "What do my property corners look like?" "What are the laws concerning surveying and property boundaries?" "Where are my property records?" People ask these questions, not from a desire to fence and post their land, but because of pride of ownership, the desire for knowledge, or — sometimes — to protect themselves from the threat of encroachment.

Take my friend up the road. For years, he had lived peacefully on his 20-acre farm. Then a smooth operator bought the property next door, and subdivision plans began looming on his boundaries. My friend ended up paying a surveyor $1,500 — just to ensure that the new neighbor's ambitions wouldn't include any of his farm.

A thin line separates the smooth operators of this world from those of you who prefer to live and let live — the boundary line of your property. Your right to build or farm, your right to live on land the way you see fit, even your family dog's right to roam at will — all stop at that line. This article will tell you everything you need to know to find it, on the ground . If the thought of doing your own home property survey scares you, don't worry. You don't have to be a genius to find your property boundaries — just a detective.

Knowing how to find your own property markers can save you time, expense, and trouble. But be aware that there's a big difference between finding established lines and setting new ones (or adjusting incorrect old ones). Only a licensed surveyor is legally qualified to set or move lines.

How to Read a Property Description

You've heard it said that the job isn't over till the paperwork is done? In this job, the paperwork comes first. Don't set foot outside until you have in hand every document that could help. First on the list is the portion of your property deed called the legal description : the description in words of your property lines. And before you can understand how to decode that description, you must learn which of the two common surveying methods applies to your property. One is the metes and bounds method; the other is the public land survey system.

8/11/2016 10:13:54 PM

I've got big problems! I own 20 ac in the boonies, a guy is buying the land across the street under land contract. He came over onto my side of the street, tore down my no trespassing signs, and hired a surveyor to do a survey using boundaries he requested, taking a big chunk of my land. His land contract wasn't even listed as a information source on the survey. His contract states "the existing road" he claimed so many feet down the road, then a line due S, the surveyor drew a line that way and listed it as an old road, there is an old overgrown trail near there that met the road 10-15 yards E of where he marked it. My land is in 2 deeds, 1 describes the line as "the existing road", and other says "Remington ln the existing road". To make things worse, I called the survey licencing board, and talked to their investigator, who said he's known that surveyor for over 30 yrs, and he's a honest guy, talk to him. I understand the guy lied to that surveyor, and put the surveyor bind. I've called the local surveyors, and get "no problem, your line it that road", then they find that survey talk to the surveyor then they can't help me, and won't do a survey, "good ole boys network won't get him in trouble". I know all the corners, and have a copy of the county plat showing the correct boundaries, but have this idiot claiming my land. Any advice? Thank you Steve

3/26/2016 2:16:41 PM

I have a brother with some land in the Mojave Dessert. His 10 acre plot is out among a checkerboard of BLM and private square miles. He has been having great difficulty locating this land as maps are giving a rough idea, but apparently there was some miscalculation in the original mapping and meridian systems. He is quite frustrated in having been sold this land without any marker or any help from those he has tried to get information from. Any ideas on how he can avoid paying the $5000 asking price on having his plot boundaries discovered? None of the nearby plots appear to have been surveyed.

4/22/2015 12:36:59 AM

I am a land surveyor and even though it is legal to survey your own property I would not recommend doing so. There are a few nuances in this article that are legally incorrect. Surveyors cannot move property boundaries legally. What a boundary is is a question of law, where a boundary is is a question of fact. Although you may be able to go out onto your property and find something marking the corners of your property, without the right equipment you will never be able to run a perfect line along your property line. Also, there are many things you have to take into consideration when surveying such as evidence of possession and things like adverse possession. If you want to know where your property lines are and anything related to the boundary of your property, call your local surveyor and pay the $300-$500 and have your property surveyed. It will save you from potential legal trouble down the road which will cost you thousands of dollars.

4/16/2015 7:37:26 AM

I own property inside the city, the city has a 50 foot right of way from center line of street 25 feet each way, so can anyone tell me where my property starts, does my property start where the cities r/w stops?

4/14/2015 8:23:00 PM

It's good to know that it's possible to do your own property surveying. It's still a good idea however to hire a professional to follow up your work. If there are any disputes, the word of a professional trumps anything you do on your own.

4/4/2015 11:16:58 AM

I think this is a nicely written article. I finally know what all the numbers mean on the plat of the property that I just purchased. Obviously, if you're building a new structure close to a property line, then you'll want to pay for a professional survey. But, if you just want to map out your property to get an idea of where your property lines are, then this is a great way to do it.(plus,it's a lot of fun to me). As an added note, I paid for a survey through my lender(it was for the loan, so I didn't have any say in the company used or the type of survey). When I received the survey, it says it's only accurate to 5'+- because a marker could not be located.(so basically, the survey is worthless for putting up a fence or something within 5' of the line). I did some checking on the plat, and the 1/4 section boundary pipe is in the corner of my front yard. I feel like the surveyor was too lazy to look for it. His website says he's been surveying for 30+ years, so I think he should have found it if an uneducated homeowner like myself can.

2/17/2015 9:37:53 AM

I think that I am in line with those that are afraid of encroachment. The last thing I want is for someone to buffer my property too closely. My neighbor is building next to me and I am not quite sure where the property lines are exactly. Where can I learn more about land surveying?

11/17/2013 9:43:09 PM

I have a 10 acre ranch in Manteca Ca. Our land is square parcel. I need a surveyor in San Joaquin County California who can charge me a fee to fix/ find my boundaries. Please contact me @ or Call 510 676 9372. Regards Mohammad Khan

7/19/2012 4:31:15 AM

thank you this was a great help

Brad Bilbo_2
4/27/2010 2:22:42 PM

As a licensed surveyor in California I need to caution any unlicensed person doing what they think is surveying could ultimately make matters worse. Do you really think that if you found a property corner and then told your neighbor that it is the corner, that they would beleive you? The reason we are licensed is to protect the public from disasters such as DIY surveying. Do yourself and everyone a favor. Call a professional when it comes to property rights. Would you attempt brain surgery just because you found a DIY instruction from a non-doctor? B. Bilbo PLS California

Douglas Casey
12/17/2008 6:59:03 PM

You're going to get a lot of people in a lot of disputes because you have made a very complex job into a simple peep and measure affair. The "art" of surveying encompasses much much more than sighting and measuring, especially in the eastern part of the country where the the public land survey was not used. Please urge your readers to be very careful of "homemade"surveying.The urge to save money is something all of us want to do, but some things require some practical experience and specialized education to accomplish. Douglas T. Casey Certified Land Surveyor Virginia

Eric Ackerman, PLS
10/10/2008 9:31:32 PM

As a Professional Land Surveyor in California I'd have to say this was well written. For the homeowner, it a good primer into the world of Land Surveying. Unfortunately there is much more to surveying than measuring. Regarding measuring: The methods use by the author might work well for flatter land, where it's easier to measure horizontally, but anywhere where there are obstructions and hills may not yield measurement within 20 feet or more. Many of the "old-timers" measurements where off by feet, and they were experienced using the older equipment. A lot of time was spent learning to use a Solar Compass, transit and metal chain or tape. Generally a new hire will take a good 6 months to be proficient and accurate with modern survey equipment. Unless Surveyors are hiring dump people, that should be a clue as to the difficultly of measuring. Plus, the solar compass was used sometime after 1850’s and that means the majority of property (mostly out west) is base on “True North” and not magnetic. The act of measuring can be quite difficult and that’s why many surveyors use Total Stations that can cost up to $35,000. GPS equipment can range from $20,000 to $80,000 depending on the type of equipment. Anyway, in addition to the cost and difficulties of measuring there are other legal issues that require professional judgment. Surveyors have to know common law (court cases) Roman law, English common law, and local and state laws to property retrace or re-establish boundary lines. A surveyor has to know the legal weight given to words found in a deed, and that only comes with training and education. Many times there are conflicting calls in a deed such as “North 88 degrees 34’ 24” West 2,300 feet along said Wilson Tract to a 1” pipe; said pipe being at the northwest corner of said Tract and North 45 Degrees 00’ 00” East 404.89 feet from the southwest corner of Lot 2 of the Parcel Map filed in Book 12, Page 45 of Parcel Maps, thence……………….”

2/12/2008 2:16:36 AM

I am a land surveyor alot of this article is really great. There are some things that one should know about land surveying. The compose reading of today is not the same as 50 or 100 years ago. ALSO the adjoined has a description that most times does not match your description. Bearing are usually different and sometime distances are also different. In my opinion a home owner can retrace the boundary to an accuracy far less than a professional land surveyor. A professional land surveyor may have to survey all the adjoining parcel to establish your boundaries. And there maybe gaps and/or gores between adjoining parcels. If one chooses to retrace their boundary make sure one gets all the surround deed descriptions. If one feels there is a problem seek a professional land surveyor. A suggestion is get three quotes for your survey and you get what you pay for. If your property is important to one make sure you weigh it $1500 for a twenty acre parcel is a good price.

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